Earnest Byner asked for the ball.
And in return for getting his wish, the Washington Redskin running back delivered an outstanding performance Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.
Byner gained 157 yards in 32 carries and scored three touchdowns as the Redskins knocked the Dolphins out of first place in the AFC East with a 42-20 victory.
“Earnest came to me last night and told me, ‘I want to carry the load,’ ” Redskin Coach Joe Gibbs said.
Byner became the first player this season to rush for more than 100 yards against Miami as the Redskins (7-5) piled up 467 yards total offense against the Dolphins’ league-leading defense and produced their highest point total of the season.
“It was a feeling I had, that I could run the ball 30 times,” said Byner, who scored on runs of two, seven and 13 yards. “We have to come out and play like this every week. We can’t wait for someone else to kick-start us.”
The Dolphins (9-3) gave up more points than they had in the last five weeks combined, and more than they had allowed since the New York Giants beat them, 20-3, in the third week of the season.
“That is about the worst whipping a team can take,” Miami Coach Don Shula said. “They completely handled us.”
With Philadelphia’s loss to Buffalo Sunday, Washington is tied with Philadelphia for second place in the NFC East and for the top position among wild-card contenders.
The Redskins gained 222 yards on the ground against a defense that had been giving up only 85 yards a game. Washington also held the ball for 40 minutes.
Redskin quarterback Mark Rypien completed 21 of 28 passes for 245 yards and three touchdowns, ending a string of 21 consecutive quarters in which Miami had not allowed a touchdown pass.
The Dolphins led the conference in both rush and pass defense, but gave up 237 yards total offense to Washington in the first half.
“It was one of those days where everything clicked up front,” Redskin guard Russ Grimm said. “I told Byner before the game I felt confident running on them.”
The Redskins held Miami to 34 yards rushing.
Miami quarterback Dan Marino completed 17 of 33 passes for 223 yards and connected with James Pruitt on a 24-yard touchdown pass play with 13:49 left in the game.
The Redskins took a 21-0 lead with three consecutive long touchdown drives in the first half and increased their lead to 35-6 before Miami scored touchdowns on successive plays in the fourth quarter.
The Dolphins pulled to within 35-20 on the touchdown pass play from Marino to Pruitt and a 42-yard interception return by Jarvis Williams.
But the Redskins held the ball for the next 8:55, and Rypien connected with Art Monk on a seven-yard touchdown pass play for the final margin.
“We rose to the occasion when we had to,” Rypien said. “We’ll see next week if we can put a run together, if we can get the same hungry feeling we had this week.”